Biomass in focus – implementing the CFP and reaching Bmsy

Published on March 7, 2017

At the European Parliament hearing on “the state and development of the biomass of fish stocks managed by the CFP” the Commission reaffirmed the commitment to manage fish stocks above Bmsy.

Bmsy is defined as the biomass that will result in the long-term from fishing below Fmsy. Overfishing is when fishing mortality is above Fmsy.

Ken Patterson, the Commission representative, stressed that Article 2.2 of the Basic Regulation relates to both fishing mortality and biomass, and as such management of biomass is a legal obligation of the Common Fisheries Policy. However, the Commission also explained that a lack of coherence within the scientific community, including ICES, has held them back from publishing measures of biomass and Bmsy.

In response to this Markus Knigge of Pew proposed that there should be a public debate to explain precisely what the issue is as to why Bmsy data has not been possible in the assessments provided. This would enable scientific independence to be upheld while also implementing the CFP.

Rainer Froese from the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research (GEOMAR) has developed estimates and has calculated that 15% of European stocks, from an analysis of 397 stocks, are at or above Bmsy. Moreover, 31% of stocks are fished at or below Fmsy. He emphasised that the scenario which is most in line with the CFP objectives and will lead to both rebuilt fish stocks and a more profitable fishing industry is for managers to set quotas in line with 0.5 Fmsy.

This lower F value would lead to faster and more reliable increases to fish stock biomass while at the same time lead to profitability doubling by 2030 for North-East Atlantic stocks, while for the Mediterranean where stocks are more depleted it is expected that profitability would rise by close to 400% in the same timeline.

John Pope of NRC argued in his presentation that ecosystem-based fisheries management should be implemented. Currently, single-stock assessments are used to calculate MSY values and these are too focused on the short-term. By taking into account of ecosystem considerations and multispecies interactions a more accurate picture of MSY can be developed.

Pope also spoke about the necessity of avoiding biomass dropping to levels below Blim, as is the case for western Baltic cod. He said this is a “dangerous place to get into for any fish stock. Once there it’s hard to get off it. Have to take extreme measures”. In particular where recruitment is a problem, if you fish at Fmsy then recovery is prevented. Knigge pointed out that in the USA if a stock falls below this threshold it must be rebuilt all the way above Bmsy.

Michael Andersen of the Danish Fisheries Producer Organisation (DFPO) contradicted this by saying the trend for western Baltic cod is positive for the past few years and as such the legal obligations of the CFP should be ignored. The DFPO representative was happy that stocks are now “fished below a level that will lead to collapse”, however, this unambitious approach was not shared by MEPs or fellow speakers. Marco Affronte (Greens/EFA, IT) accused Andersen of a “dangerous way of thinking” when presenting a selective graph of western Baltic cod biomass. Regrettably, the DFPO representative also repeated his false claims that fishing during spawning season “makes no difference whatsoever”.